I'm reading The Myth of Solid Ground: Earthquakes, Prediction, and the Fault Line Between Reason and Faith by David L. Ulin, which must be the prettiest, most thought-provoking writing about the propensity of Los Angeles to shake that I've encountered. He's done some readings around town and has an op-ed essay on the value of quake legends in today's Times:
This morning, I'm listening to the birds outside my window. It's a soothing sound, a harmony of chirping just above the level of background noise. Were I anywhere else, I might not even notice, but in Southern California, the simplest things often come loaded, carrying a weight far greater than themselves.
This is, after all, earthquake country, and in earthquake country, the story goes, birds stop chirping three hours before a major quake. Is that true? Probably not. But on both a conscious and a cellular level, I keep an ear out for the birds.
Faced with the uncertainty of an earthquake, we need the myths, the stories, the larger frame of reference that speaks to our imagination and our fears. We need, in other words, to make sense of the incomprehensible, to come to terms with seismicity by giving it a context we can recognize.
Not that any of this will protect us. But in the buildup to the next earthquake, it may provide a measure of solace, a strategy for coping, not all that different from listening to the birds.
Ulin told the crowd at his Central Library "Aloud" reading in July that the last science course he passed was in high school. But he brings a ton of reporting on seismology to the book, which in some part is the product of his personal search for sufficient comfort with the tectonic realities to let him and his family keep living here. Apparently, they're staying.